Electric Chair

Execution by electrocution, started in the United States, is an execution method in which the person being killed is strapped to a specially built wooden chair and electrocuted through electrodes placed on the body. Although its use is in decline the electric chair has become a symbol of the death penalty even though it was only used in the United States and briefly in the Philippines.

The goal of the chair was to incapacitate the organs of the body in order to cause death. This was done through various cycles and charges of electricity. The first cycle was designed to damage the brain and cause the person to pass out while the second cycle would damage other vital organs. Many times death came from over-stimulation of the heart.

Dr. Alphonse David Rockwell invented the electric chair. More than 25 states have used the electric chair during the 20th century. By the 21st century the chair had become infrequent and mostly discontinued. In 2010 electrocution is an optional form of execution although the prisoner is also allowed to choose lethal injection as an alternative method.

In most states lethal injection is used. Although in some states it is still an alternative form of execution. It was deemed “cruel and unusual punishment” in Nebraska and subsequently was the last state to get rid of electrocution as the only sole method of execution.
The idea for the electric chair was conceived when a committee in New York State was trying to find a more humane option to hanging. Alfred P. Southwick suggested passing an electric current through a man after remembering how painlessly and quickly a drunken man died due to touching exposed power lines. Southwick approached two electrical pioneers, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, to create the chair. Neither wanted to be seen as the creator of a “dangerous” type of electricity, so they were both hesitant to create the chair. Edison eventually agreed to take on the experiment using AC power.

Harold P. Brown and Arthur Kennelly, employees of Edison, were the first to create the electric chair. Since Edison was their boss he is often credited with the work. They chose to work with AC due to the belief that it is lethal. They tested it on animals to make sure it was stronger than DC current. These tests were enough to prove to the committee that AC was the right choice and the chair was adopted in 1889.

William Kemmlerwas the first prisoner executed in 1890. The first attempt wasn’t exactly successful since the first current knocked him unconscious but failed to kill him. The second current actually lit the prisoner on fire. The last reported botched electrocution was at Sing Sing when Fred Van Wormer was electrocuted, taken to the morgue and started breathing again.

The most men executed in immediate procession was seven in 1928. Lynda Lyon Block was the last person to be electrocuted involuntarily. Lethal injection became the most popular method after botched electrocutions were reported in the new during the early 1980s. In one case, Willie Francis was electrocuted but did not die and took his case to court. He lost and was later fully executed in 1947.